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City of Cape Town adopts reblocking policy

By Walter Fieuw

City of Cape Town adopted the re-blocking policy on 5 November after an announcement by Councillor Thandeka Gqada, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, City of Cape Town. In a City of Cape Town media statement, Cllr. Gqada reported

We view this as a turning point in our commitment to redress and a new model of shared responsibility that can change the face of our informal settlements

The informal settlements of Flamingo Crescent in Lansdowne, Kuku Town in Kensington and Mtshini Wam in Milnerton are mentioned as pilot projects the City seeks to push forward in the next financial year. But how did these settlements come on the City’s radar? Perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for the City’s renewed commitment to providing better located services in the 204 informal settlements in the City? For these answers to be answered, context is needed.

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What is re-blocking all about?

“Blocking-out” and “re-blocking” are interchangeable terms the South African SDI Alliance uses to refer to the reconfiguration and repositioning of shacks in very dense informal settlements in accordance to a community-drafted spatial framework. The aim is to better utilize the spaces in informal settlements to allow for better service provision. Moreover, re-blocking is done in “clusters” identified by the community, and after implementation, “courtyard” are created to ensure a safer environment for woman and children via neighborhood watches (all shacks face the courtyard), productive places (such as washing lines, food gardens), and generally provides space for local government to install better services.

Read more about reblocking in Chapter 2 of our Project Report Masekhase: The Community Upgrading Finance Facility.

Blocking out is actually a mobilization tool more than anything else. We are saying that we are an informal settlement network. So we need to be preaching informal settlement upgrading.

Rose Molokoane, national coordinator of FEDUP, and regional coordinator with SDI

Mshini Wam profile

The successful re-blocking of Mtshini Wam

Through the process of “re-blocking”—an incremental in-situ re-arrangement of shacks in accordance to a community design framework which open up safer and more dignified public spaces (called “courtyards”)—45 short term employment opportunities have been created through the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP). The special characteristic of this EPWP contract is that the community has taken full ownership of the development project. The EPWP initiative therefore builds on the community’s initiatives to save towards their own development, to conduct a self-census, to establish community project committees, and to design their future settlement layout. See this report on Mtshini Wam’s inclusion in the World Design Capital 2014 official programme.

The community of Mtshini Wam has also worked with Touching The Earth Lightly (a Cape Town-based design NGO) and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) from Massachusetts, USA around growing vertical vegetable gardens and have installed “the litre of light”, which amplifies natural light through a chemical-based dispenser installed in the roof of the shack. This was called the “green shack” and drew a lot of media attention at the Design Indaba 2013.

Mtshini Wam has also become a regional learning centre for communities local and international to share experience around engaging government agencies around more inclusive measures of improving living conditions in informal settlements.  Read about the SDI Five Cities conferencehosted in Mtshini Wam in February 2013.

“Prior to re-blocking, the settlement was very dense,” said community leader Nokwezi Klaas, “There were no passageways and when there were fires it was virtually impossible to get into the settlement. All the toilets were on the outskirts and there were only three water taps for over 200 households in the settlement.”

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Background to the partnership between the City and communities

CORC reported on the initial partnership formation with the City of Cape Town in August 2011 where the new Mayor Alderman Patricia de Lille made an in-principle commitment to furthering the evolving partnership. Initially 23 projects were identified for pilots to experiment in the new people-centered development approaches the ISN presents. Monthly partnership meetings were held in each of the four City regions: South/Central; Strand/Khayalitsha; Eastern; and Blauwberg.

MW cluster 27

In April 2012, 22 new pilot partnership projects were agreed to and Mayor Patricia De Lille signed partnership accord Memorandum of Understanding with ISN and CORC at a mass gathering held in Vygieskraal – a settlement of 300 households located behind the formal housing development with the same name in Athlone – the Mayor was introduced to the programmes of the ISN. The geographical spread of these projects were true to the need of the City, with eleven projects in the South / Central area, and six in the Khayelitsha / Strand area. Some of the projects (20%) included consolidation and relocation of settlements (those settlements less than 15 households where development is not feasible), some included (40%) formalization and subdivision, and some include (40%) blocking out.

So what does the City of Cape Town’s reblocking policy mean to practice?

The City of Cape Town, after sustained engagement with the ISN/FEDUP and CORC/iKhayalami through innovative learning-by-doing approach to upgrading informal settlements, put out the draft policy in July 2013. After all comments were received, including those of the Alliance, the City officially adopted the policy. The policy is aligned with the City’s The five strategic focus areas of the City’s Integrated Development Plan, The National Development Plan 2030, OneCape2040 and the City Development Strategy, and the City’s five-year Integrated Human Settlements Plan. This means there is a long term commitment to making meaningful interventions in informal settlements.

You can download the entire policy document here

The policy document outlines the criteria for viable reblocking projects, the preventative measures to be installed in the reblocking project, alignment with different government departments, and very importantly, the governance interface between the City, communities and supportive NGOs.

Mtshini Wam before and after

In lieu of conclusion: Moving forward

Reblocking is now in the public sphere. The policy space now exists and the City can, after more than three years of lobbying and demonstrating innovative alternatives, commit resources to the projects and ensure departmental alignment.

The Alliance supports this policy innovation. Communities’ vast experience in making dignified and livable spaces, supported by innovative partners and agencies that we have worked alongside, point to the following core lessons learnt:

  • No internal displacement has occurred even though spaces have been opened for community courtyards, water and sanitation service delivery, electrification, and creating primary and secondary road hierarchies;
  • Scarce spaces in informal settlements are consolidated and productivity is maximized for communal purposes (safety and security, daily domestic chores) and delivering better services
  • The process of negotiating floor sizes builds social cohesion and solidarity. Governance support is part of ISN’s mobilisation and capacity building support in communities.
  • Top-structures are improved by using high-quality Inverted Box Rib (“IBR”) galvanised steel sheets with high fire resistance ratings.
  • Social mobilization through woman’s savings schemes, enumeration, spatial mapping and design, and eventual collaboration in the implementation of this settlement-wide upgrading strategy generates internal learning (which is shared through the ISN and FEDUP), and builds stronger partnerships with the local government.

- Article originally posted on SDI South African Alliance  on 14 November 2013.

  • Beer

    This sounds amazing! Keen to learn more.